Bl. Bronislawa of Cracow

(1203-1259)

Poland first became acquainted with Christianity in the 10th century. The Church was organized there only in the year 1000, when an archdiocese was established in Gnesen, with suffragan dioceses in Kolberg, Breslau and Cracow.

Even in the 13th century, however, the vast territories surrounding what became Poland were inhabited by pagans; hence, the Christian Poles were called to be a missionary people, preaching and consolidating the Christian faith. Cracow, where Pope John Paul II was later Archbishop, became noted for three holy leaders: St. Hyacinth, patron of Poland (died AD 1257); Bl. Ceslaus of Silesia (1184?-1242); and Bl. Bronislawa (1203-1259). Not only were all three close associates; they all seem to have belonged to the same noble family of the Odrowaz.

Hyacinth and Ceslaus, both already prominent priests, accompanied their uncle Ivo Odrowaz to Rome around 1217 when he went there to be consecrated bishop of Cracow. While in Rome, the two young Poles met St. Dominic, founder of the Dominican Friars, and witnessed a miracle in which he raised a young man from the dead. Deeply impressed, they joined the Dominicans forthwith and returned to Poland as pioneering members of Dominic’s Order of Preachers. Hyacinth founded Dominican houses at Cracow and other places, and was an active missionary in the countries to the south and east of Cracow, gaining a reputation as a miracle-worker. Father Ceslaus founded Dominican convents at Prague and Breslau, serving as a missionary in the more western Slavic territories. He was also the spiritual director of St. Jadwiga (Hedwig), whom both Poles and Germans hold in high esteem.

Bronislawa had meanwhile been setting an example of quiet leadership in the contemplative religious life.

The daughter of Count Stanislaus and Countess Anna of Prandata-Odrowaz, she had entered the convent of Norbertine nuns near Cracow at sixteen. Although the details of her convent life are practically unknown, she is said to have developed into a very holy cloistered nun. Eventually she asked permission to become a hermitess on the convent property; at first, it was for limited periods, but eventually on a permanent basis. One of the stories that does come down to us is that when St. Hyacinth died in 1257, Bronislawa, in a vision, saw Our Lady welcoming this holy relative into heaven.

Bronislawa died and was entombed two years later in her convent church, revered from the start as a saint. The church was destroyed centuries later during the Swedish invasion of Poland, and her relics were lost. When they were rediscovered in the 17th century, all Poland rejoiced, and Bronislawa’s body was carried triumphantly from diocese to diocese for public veneration. Her former convent was rebuilt and became a national prayer center. Popular Cracovian custom has long since referred to the convent site as Mount Saint Bronislawa. Actually, she was never beatified (probably for want of dependable information on her life); but in 1839 Pope Gregory XVI approved her cult by “equivalent beatification.”

Blessed Bronislawa had long been invoked for the protection of good reputation and for a happy death. She had also assisted the Poles against various epidemics. After World War II, when Poland fell into Communist hands, Cardinal Augustyn Hlond, the Primate of Poland, urged the Polish people to beg her help against the still graver plagues of atheism and immorality. That favor was granted in our day. Apparently, the three Odrowazes who had bolstered the Polish faith seven centuries before were still watching over their native land.

Many Polish parents have named their children after this trio. If the Christian names Hyacinth, Ceslaus, and Bronislawa, fall strangely on the Anglo-Saxon ear, they do grateful honor to three heroes of old Polonia.

–Father Robert F. McNamara

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